What’s Cooler? Battle Of The Battle Wagons


Life is all about change. When I was young and single I had small cars that fit my life. Rather, I could fit my life into small cars. I could cram almost everything I owned into my 1985 Honda Prelude. Later, when it was just me and the wife, we had cars like a Dinan-modified BMW 325is and a Mazda Miata LE. We couldn’t put much into them, but they were fun and buzzy and you didn’t care if they were a little uncivilized.

But now there’s going to be a third person in our family. A little wonder who will in time learn to tolerate such automotive silliness but may not spring forth unto this world with the car bug that infects his parents. What’s an expectant father to do?

I need a responsible car. One with some space. I don’t like the thirst and bulk of SUVs and I would sooner drive penny nails into Mike Tyson’s ass with my forehead than pilot a minivan. I clearly need a station wagon.

My criteria for cars is simple. It should be okay to look at. It should be reliable in that I don’t spend more time fixing it than driving it. It should amuse me. Finally, I have to actively not hate it. If it had a manual transmission, so much the better. That’s pretty much it.

Manny-tranny wagons are sort of thin on the ground. There are Subarus and Audis and BMWs, and they are all fine cars that are presumably reliable and certainly nice to look at. None of them, however, amuse me because anyone with a credit check and a pulse can have one. Yes, I need a wagon, but I also need a little something… more.

Perhaps I need a 1993 Volvo 940 wagon chock-full of 5.0-litre Mustang engine. Backing this 225-horsepower  lump is a row-your-own 5-speed. This green sleeper looks just like every grocery getter in line at the nursery school except for the dual chrome exhaust pipes, which quite frankly would be made a little more subtle.

The seller says the conversion was done by Ross Converse himself, proprietor of Converse Engineering. For over 20 years these fine folks have been making bolt-in engine swap kits which use the venerable 5.0 Ford motor. There is room under the hood for a supercharger, which while this car does not have is something that could be added later.

This particular rust-free 940 has all the nice options, including a sunroof and heated seats. It has handsome boxy lines that I prefer in lieu of today’s jellybean designs. Green is absolutely not my favorite color but I would get over it every time I dipped into the right pedal. You could probably build a car just like it in a better color for the advertised US$11,500, or you could just buy this one.

But then there’s this: A 1992 BMW 525i Touring with the heart and soul of a supercharged M3.

This monument to parts bin engineering was put together by a BMW Car Club of America member who presumably didn’t want a regular ol’ M5 Touring. They were never officially imported to the US, though several roam around the lower 48. The 3.0-litre M3 motor is a direct swap for the 2.5-litre, and there is more room in the 5ers engine compartment for the installed Active Autowerke supercharger. All US-bound Tourings between 1992 and 1995 were equipped with automatic transmissions, but this builder saw fit to install the manual transmission bits. Wheels are M5, brakes are Brembo.

The M5 body kit, front sport seats (M-Tech cloth!), and smoked Hella ellipsoid headlights all came over from Europe. The build should have required very little fabrication as everything bolts, screws and clips into place, and the finished products is stunning.

You could not build this car for the US$16,999 the dealer in Seattle, Washington, is looking for. The parts and base car alone would push the asking price. Then you get to assemble it. Assuming you value your time at zero (which people with kids never do) you’d be, um, ahead.

I’d be happy with either one. The Volvo would be a great around-town car, perfect for taking the kid on errands and making very quick runs to the airport or the local wineries. The BMW, however, would be outstanding for track days and teaching the youngling about late apexing and lift-throttle-oversteer.

Life is about change, but it’s also about choices. Very fun choices.

[ Volvo 940 on Craigslist ]
[ BMW 525iT at Munich Evolution ]